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Beautiful Children


Beautiful Children

Newell Ewing is a typical 12-year-old boy, of no special
interest to anyone, until he disappears in the desert outside of
Las Vegas. BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN examines several characters whose
actions, seemingly disparate and unrelated, illuminate
Newell’s mysterious path. And what characters they are! In
Charles Bock’s rendition of his home city, to be young and
unsupervised in Las Vegas is to be thrown into the company of
people so grotesque, they would keep Hieronymus Bosch up at

Against his mother’s better judgment, Newell is allowed to
spend the evening with his friend Kenny, a much older boy Newell
met at Amazin’ Stories, the local comic book store. Kenny,
the product of a dysfunctional family, is a painfully shy artist
just starting to get a feel for his own talent. He hangs around the
store hoping to show his drawings, done on paper diner placemats,
to visiting writers and illustrators.

One such writer is Bing Beiderbixxe, the creative mastermind behind
Wendy Whitebread, Undercover Slut. After his appearance in the
comic book store, between fighting his sugar addiction and
desperate loneliness, Bing cruises the strip. He winds up at The
Slinky Fox, not one of Las Vegas’s most highbrow
establishments. Bing’s lap dancer is a gorgeous train wreck
of a woman, Cheri Blossom. Cheri is not really sure she wants to be
a dancer anymore, but under the sway of her boyfriend, Ponyboy, her
next move is almost certain to destroy her.

Ponyboy, named for his tattoos, is the moral vacuum at the heart of
the story. As Cheri describes him, “Every idea he had turned
out to be the worst thing that ever happened to her.” The
fact that he actually does love Cheri makes no difference. Ponyboy
is a runaway who is getting a little old for life on the street and
is looking for a big score. With his contacts on the fringes of the
criminal world and Cheri willing to do anything to support him, why
not give pornography a try? Why not, indeed.

Of course, Cheri is not Ponyboy’s only interest. Hanging out
in an old ice cream truck the local kids use for drugs, sex and
music, Ponyboy hooks up with a character we know only as the girl
with the shaved head. One bad idea leads to another, and all this
leads to Newell in the desert with a choice to make.

These characters are so detailed, so compelling in their delusions
and bad decisions, that BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN is impossible to put
down. You really need to see what they do next and how it all leads
to Newell. The ones described with most heartbreaking grace are
Newell’s parents --- Lorraine, a former showgirl, and
Lincoln, an events manager at a Vegas hotel. The Ewings are the
only characters we see after Newell disappears, and we learn how
adrift they are in this inexplicable catastrophe that has overtaken
them. Although we are exposed to them up to a year after
Newell’s disappearance, it always feels like the same day.
For parents of missing children, every day is the day of the

The plight of teenage runaways is never far away in this book, like
the street kids described horrifically as Lestat and Dangerprone
Daphne. Las Vegas, with its warm climate and culture of quick,
transformative winning, pulls them in like a supernova. Then
gambling’s seedier side --- its drugs and prostitution, its
criminals and crackpot schemes --- chews them up. For the most
part, in real life, no one really knows what happens to them.


Reviewed by Colleen Quinn ( on December 22, 2010

Beautiful Children
by Charles Bock

  • Publication Date: January 13, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0812977963
  • ISBN-13: 9780812977967